Friday, May 30, 2014

Pointers for Signing Your First Contract As A Programmer

A couple weeks ago I had decided to go back to work. My wife and I talked it over and said soon will
be a good time so I would start the search. The next day I got a request to look at a contract job from a contracting company. It was interesting so I said sure.

Well, things moved fast. A little too fast I think and I should have taken my time more, since when I saw the contract I had some reservations. I also talked to some contractors and got some good tips for things to look out for.

Here are some things to do when you get an offer for a contract position:
  • Make sure you have the job description and job title.
    • I overlooked the missing title (on a recent offer) since I thought it was clear I am a Software Development Engineer. I was given a Software Development Engineer Test job description without the title and they can read very similar. If you do/do not want to do testing then make sure you are clear on this.
  • Don't settle on an hourly rate until you have had the interview if you can hold off.
  • Don't accept the position until you have read the contract for the position first.
  • Don't go in to read the contract and sign. Get them to send the contract first so you can review.
  • Once you are happy with the contract and hourly rate, then accept the position and go in to sign.
Now, here are some questions to ask based on feedback from fellow contractors:
  • Do you get paid vacation days?
  • Do you get paid statutory days?
    • In general for these two above, you can get pay deducted from your hourly rate to cover these vacation days but be careful. If you do this and have to work overtime you get paid less while working overtime and that extra pay being taken off for the statutory and vacation days is not adding up for more vacation days so you are leaving money on the table. As well, for some contracts if you said you would take 1 week off during the contract time and the client manager that you are working for does not ok that vacation time during your contract, you may lose that vacation pay and hence leave money on the table.
  • Where will you sit when you go to work?
  • Who pays for the desk seat?
    • Yes, some contracts do not include a desk and hence if you want a desk to work at you must pay for it, the hiring client must pay for it, or the contracting company has to pay for it. It may come out of your hourly rate and can be a non-trivial cost. Make sure you know this going in.
  • Who pays for your computer and if on call your phone or data/text/call minutes plan?
    • Again, this may have to be covered by either party in the contract: you, the contracting company or the client. Find out who since this can be an unforeseen expense to you.
  • How do you report your time? To who? What happens when the client supervisor is on vacation who approves your timesheets?
    • If you don't have this straight you go a couple weeks without pay. Not cool, but your responsibility to find out.
  • Who pays for your taxes?
    • You? Your contracting firm? Find out since this will impact how you. I you are taking on your taxes, that is another expense to hire an accountant to help out.
  • Here is my most dreaded issue, the Non-Compete clause, also know as Restrictive Covenant. Is it too wide? That is, does it say you can not take a job in this field? With this company? With another contracting company? For a long period.
    • I just had an offer that wanted me to sign a 180 day non-compete where I could not work at the company I was contracting to and I could not work with another contracting company during that period. This was for a 45 day contract. So for a 1.5 month contract that wanted to freeze me from working at this company or a new contracting firm for 6 months? A little harsh and overboard. I negotiated new terms on this point.
Here are some of the advantages I can see and others have told me:
  • I am paid hourly. I am only allowed to work 40hr/week without supervisor permission to work more. If I work 50 hours I get paid 50 hours.
  • I get to work on a project to ship date and then I can move onto another project. I am not stuck maintaining something.
  • I am told that contracting gives a greater peace of mind. Many contractors are paid for output, not meetings and long term direction setting. So when they leave work their mind is freer and they do not dwell on work issues.
I'll let you know if that is true.

As I do more contracting I will post more updates as I learn more.

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